A memory in a time of war

It is a particular feature of the political and popular culture of North
America that the way we look at current events occurs in an almost total
absence of historical memory. This all too often means that we are shown a
woefully misinformed and short-sighted reflection of the world in our media
and institutions.

Those concerned about human rights and international peace are preoccupied by
the events spiralling out of control in the Middle East, with hundreds dead,
thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced—almost all of them
civilians—and vital infrastructure being reduced to rubble.

We are told that this is in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers
and cross-border rocket attacks, justifying the “measured”
response of the flattening of Lebanon—action that is defended by Harper
and Bush as the right of Israel under the provisions of Article 51 of the UN
Charter, which allows for self-defence in the face of aggression.

I write this on July 19, which for me provides an interesting parallel in
history. It is the anniversary of the day in 1979 that the Sandanistas took
power in Nicaragua after almost two decades of civil war. The United States
almost immediately began to undermine the revolution, which had such devious
plans as universal literacy programs and equitable land redistribution.

One way it did this was by funding, arming and training the Contras, made up
primarily of members of the former National Guard that had kept the country
under the thumb of a US-supported dictator for generations, in neighbouring
Honduras. Throughout the ‘80s, the Contras, really nothing more than a
US proxy army, launched terrorist attacks across the border into northern
Nicaragua. They destroyed schools, health clinics, cooperative farms and
other vital infrastructure. They raped and killed campesinos and forced young
men across the border to join the Contras, and it was all justified on the
basis of self-defence because tiny, impoverished Nicaragua constituted a
threat to the security of the United States.

Throughout this decade of barbarism, the US ignored or blocked all
international censure of its illegal actions. It is hard to fathom what their
reaction would have been had Nicaragua had the capacity to lay waste to
Washington or Chicago in response.

I remember Nicaragua because it illustrates the dangers of unilateral action
in the name of self-defence, and because historical memory is important.

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